I laugh lightly as I place my hand over his. “I certainly hope so because something’s causing me to blow up.”
He lowers his lips and begins kissing the skin sheltering our child. “You’ve always been beautiful, but you’ve transcended even that now. You’re radiant. You have a glow that lights you from the inside out. I want to stay by your side every moment of the day to witness the wonder of your body changing as you nurture the life we created together. I want to fall to my knees and thank whatever god brought you to me. If I live a thousand lives, it still won’t be long enough to show you all of the love I feel when I see, feel, or think of you. You’re my heaven, baby, the reason I have a chance at redemption that I never believed possible.”
Tears are trickling down my face as he finishes his raw declaration of love. Every word is straight from his heart and I can’t help but feel unworthy of a man such as Lucian—but I’ll hold onto him with everything I have. We are building a life and family together. “How am I possibly supposed to compete with something like that?” I blubber out. Why can’t I be one of those delicate women who look good even when crying? Instead, I’m like a leaking fountain. Thank heavens I didn’t wear mascara today or it would be even worse.
Clearly amused, he says, “It’s not a contest to see who loves the other more, baby. I’ve never said things like that to anyone before, but when I’m with you, they just come out.” I run my fingers through his thick, dark hair as he settles his head against my chest. It’s times like these when I know that, like myself, no one has ever held or touched him in such a simple but loving manner. He relaxes completely, still cradling my stomach while I show him with more than words how much I cherish him. “You know, I dreamed of this…before,” he begins idly. “When Cassie was pregnant, I imagined a normal life with a family. Taking my son to a ballgame or my daughter to dance class. Even doing the whole carpool thing with their friends. Cassie would be off the rails making one crazy threat after another and I’d just let myself drift off, thinking of what our life could be if we were like any other normal couple expecting a child.”
“Oh, Lucian,” I whisper, hearing the pain and torment in his voice.
He continues speaking, almost as if in a trance. “I had my routine each day. Before class, I would go through the apartment looking for anything she could use to hurt herself. Then I’d check for pills or even alcohol. I’d given Aidan strict instructions never to bring anything like that into the apartment. I was even so paranoid that I didn’t wear a belt or keep one—just in case she tried to hang herself with it.” My fingers tense in his hair, but I force myself to unfurl them. He needs this and I have to be strong for him. “She stopped going to class, so I’d come home for lunch, to make another quick check of the apartment and to assess her mood. If she seemed close to the edge, I’d skip my afternoon classes so I could watch her.” He takes a jerky breath and suddenly lifts his head to look at me. “Fuck, baby, is this bothering you? I know you can’t possibly want to hear about her. I’m sorry, I didn’t think—”
I frame his face with my hands and tell him with absolute sincerity, “I hurt for what you’ve been through, Luc. It makes me wish I could absorb your immeasurable pain and carry it for you.”
He gives me a look of adoration and turns his head to kiss the palm of my hand. “That you would feel that way with all of the pain you’re already carrying from your past shows me once again why I love you so much. You’re the most selfless person I’ve ever known.”
Once again, he lays his head on me and I resume soothing him as he picks up where he left off. “Some days when I couldn’t take it anymore, I’d escape to the park and sit on a bench for hours watching the families there. I studied them trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. They made it look so effortless. I began to resent Cassie more and more because I knew we’d never be happy like that. I couldn’t see a time when I wouldn’t have to watch and worry about what she was doing. I knew I’d have to quit school when the baby was born because there was no way I could trust her to be alone with a defenseless child.”
“Did your aunt know?” I ask, not being able to imagine her letting him fight this battle alone. She seemed to love her nephew so much.
“She knew Cassie was bipolar. Being a nurse, she’d noticed that almost from the beginning. She…tried to discourage me from dating her. She didn’t think Cassie could mentally handle being in an intimate relationship. I believe she was trying to save us both from ourselves, but at that age, you don’t listen. I didn’t tell her about how bad things had become those last few months. Cassie would try to put on a good show whenever anyone was visiting, but I knew Fae was worried. She tried to get me to talk to her, but my pride wouldn’t let me admit that I’d made a mistake. All I knew was that I had to take care of the baby. That was my life then. Each day was the same repeat of the last. The only thing in question was how volatile Cassie would be. We were no longer involved in a real relationship. It was a noxious parody. That night took away any fantasies I once harbored about having a family of my own. A man who couldn’t protect his unborn child didn’t deserve to be happy ever again. That was my penance for what I’d done.”
My poor, broken man. How had he become the wonderful person he is now when he’d been through so much all those years before? The more he shares, the more I understand why he’d been so reluctant to love, to share, and to be open. It also makes his addiction to cocaine even clearer. “Lucian,” I begin carefully, desperately afraid of saying the wrong thing. “Cassie had a serious mental illness that wasn’t being properly treated or supervised. Trained medical professionals lose patients to that disease every day. You were far too young to deal with something of that magnitude alone. The fact that you tried so hard shows me exactly who you are. No one could have foreseen that horrible tragedy. You need to forgive yourself. We would all go back if we could and change something in the past, but that’s not possible. We’re only human.”